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Symmetry Activities With Multiple Points of Entry

Symmetry can be a difficult concept for students to understand and apply, especially for those who struggle with visual-spatial planning and visual-motor integration.  Our math curriculum has a small introduction to symmetry, but most of its focus is on the several work pages that ask students to reflect images over different lines of symmetry.  While several students are able to see these lines of symmetry with ease, others often struggle.  This year, I nixed the work pages and tried a different path.

Literature often proves a great entry point into math concepts.  I used the following two books to introduce the idea:

(I only used the first half of Seeing Symmetry, because the second half deals more with rotation reflections... a bit above what I teach in first grade.)

ACTIVITY #1- Paper Folding and Cutting
To start, I gave each student a piece of construction paper and had them fold it in half.  It was interesting to see how they chose to fold their paper.  Some folded horizontally, others vertically, and one even folded diagonally- again, natural differentiation!

After folding, students were given a pair of scissors and told they could cut out a shape (making sure to only cross the fold at the top and bottom!)  Once cut, students opened their shapes and glued them onto a white sheet of paper.  We drew a dotted line through the fold to highlight the line of symmetry.  This activity is a great first experience with symmetry because:
  • It is hands on!
  • Students create both sides simultaneously, eliminating the frustration of trying to visualize and generate reflections.
  • The students can actually fold along the line of symmetry to see it as a reflection.
Here are some examples from my first graders.

We hung these pictures in a row on our "clothes line" across the windows. After, students participated in a museum walk, quietly (or as quietly as first graders can be after recess!) observing the work of their peers.

ACTIVITY #2- Pattern Blocks
I love this activity!  I placed a bin of wooden pattern blocks at each table of four students.  Next, I asked students to take out two blocks of the same shape, and place them side by side. Then, I asked them to take out two more blocks of the same shape, but different from the last pair.  I asked my students to place them in a way that would make the design symmetrical.  Once every student has achieved this step, I told them that they could continue adding to their design.   I allowed them to clear their design when they felt done, and they are welcome to start another.  Again, this is a naturally differentiated activity, as students will create a design as simple or intricate as they feel comfortable making.

I tried this activity last year and I found some students really struggled with it.  Why?  Students could not maintain the invisible line of symmetry in their work.  Eventually, they would lose focus and start missing shapes, or would add them to the wrong areas.  This year, I found a magical tool that allowed EVERY student to see the line of symmetry and successfully complete a symmetrical design.  That tool was... A RULER!  Yes, those plastic or wooden rulers that hang out in your closet provide the perfect line of symmetry for this activity.  They are thick enough that pattern blocks cannot pass over them, keeping the symmetrical sides separate.  Additionally, they are sturdy and straight, making sure that the line stays firm and a slight push will not skew the design.  Here are some of the creations from today:

We will continue our discussion of symmetry tomorrow by integrating it with our science curriculum.  We are currently studying insects, and this provides a wonderful platform for observing symmetry in nature.  Keep you posted!

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